By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Jefferson County officials, health, business and education leaders and community members gathered Monday to break ground on a new $120 million clinical services building for Cooper Green Mercy Health Services.
The new building, housed on the Sixth Avenue South site of the former Cooper Green parking deck, which was demolished in 2022, will be five stories and 211,000 square feet and completion is expected in early 2025.
Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson pointed out what Cooper Green has been meant for the past 50 years for many underserved residents.
“This has not just been a health care facility. This has been a lifeline for the energetic people in this county,” Tyson said. “This hospital has treated people with high blood pressure, diabetes, very critical care for people in our community that did not have a primary care doctor because they did not even have the co-payment to go. Five dollars might not be a lot to [some], but it’s a lot to a whole lot of people that needed health care,” Tyson said.
David Randall, chief strategy officer for the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Health System and board president and CEO of Cooper Green, said many important changes have come to the facility in the two and half years since that UAB, Jefferson County and Cooper Green have partnered.
For example, Cooper Green has improved patient safety and service quality, expanded patient services, rebuilt its infrastructure, recruited strong leadership and streamlined patient enrollment and data processes, he said.
“Now, all that in and of itself could be a normal lifecycle for an organization, but we’re not done. We’re now entering the next phase, and that is the building of the clinic of the future,” Randall said.
The new clinic will be a “launchpad to expand those services, to expand our outreach and to expand other opportunities,” Randall added.
“In fact, I believe Cooper green will be a national model, an industry standard, a benchmark of best practice, on how to provide innovative quality patient focused care, but also just as important, improving the wellness and health of the communities we serve,” Randall said.
UAB President Ray Watts said patients will have access to “modern, world-class ambulatory care” at the new facility. “In [providing these services], we will, more effectively than ever, improve access to care and address health inequities in communities throughout Jefferson County,” Watts said.
The modernized building will feature new equipment, including a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine, an expanded rehabilitation suite with a covered outdoor section, separate phlebotomy and injection clinics, a gift shop, food options and multiple community service providers.
Watts added that the new facility goes “hand-in-hand” with other UAB programs like Live HealthSmart Alabama which promotes healthy living and enhanced quality of life throughout the region and state.
“As we work in neighborhoods throughout the county and the city, we have found patients, citizens with high blood pressure, with diabetes and other medical conditions who didn’t have a primary care physician. They will all have access to world-class primary care and specialty care here at our new Cooper Green ambulatory facility,” said the UAB president.
Raegan Durant, M.D., medical director for Cooper Green, said while the groundbreaking takes place on one day, the new clinic represents a much longer project.
“It really is a continuation of a decades-long tradition of delivering high quality care here at Cooper Green, particularly for those individuals, many of whom may not have many options outside of Cooper Green for receiving care,” he said.
Many patients have been loyal to Cooper Green for decades and that still continues, he said.
“Oftentimes, many of these patients may have been uninsured when they first started being seen here. Many of them are obtaining insurance through one means or another, and continue to seek care here, and we’re so proud of that, because for us, it’s a sign that we are delivering the sort of care with the level of compassion that they desire,” Durant said.
Cooper Green originally opened as Mercy Hospital in 1972 to serve all residents of Jefferson County, particularly those who couldn’t afford care elsewhere. While its services were axed in 2013, in the wake Jefferson County’s 2011 bankruptcy filings, the new clinical facility is part of a collective push to elevate the health care provider in its new life as an outpatient care clinic.